Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Social Safety Net: Should the Government Step in More?

For many years workers could often, though not always, rely upon an employer to provide some basic benefit package if they worked full-time. It goes without saying that that model is going away. Now, to be fair, there were always a significant portion of the population who never had access to benefits, but my working-class family was among them, so I assume they were widespread.

Aside from my job in the Northwest Territories I have never had benefits in my own name. No dental. No prescription. Nothing. When I left work and was no longer covered by my parents to suddenly dawned on me how expensive maintaining my routine level of care was. Especially when I developed a dental condition that required frequent check-ups. Sigh.

It is hardly surprising that some governments and left-wing parties have suggested that if employers won't provide benefits or pensions that the state is going to have to pick up the slack. Part of me absolutely hates this, and accepts this as a reality. The trend lines all suggest more insecurity not less. I don't love the idea of the state filling in so many more aspects of our life, but seeking an alternative - none leaps to mind.

One issue is how the Ontario government currently intends to go about it. Instead of having a meaningful conversation about costs and benefits of these programs we have created them with the expectation that we will slip deeper into debt. While money is cheap and we can afford to borrow now, that may not always be the case.

If we want the government to be responsible for providing a greater social safety net we should discuss it. I think we also need to examine why employment is failing to meet these former obligations. On so many questions it feels like we're sleepwalking. We just accept high underemployment, unemployment, skills mismatches, contract work, part-time work, etc. Ultimately I think we need to examine work in the twenty-first century, but in the interim collectively supporting one another may be for the best.

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